How Personality Disorders Are Portrayed on Television

Watching Together | Personality Disorders | Beachside

People with personality disorders have a lot of issues to deal with, including getting diagnosed, dealing with family issues, finding a good health care team, and creating a viable treatment plan. Living with a personality disorder is very difficult and the stigma surrounding all mental health diagnoses may be improving, and television programs are becoming more cognizant of the need to accurately portray characters with personality disorders.

As with many other disorders, personality disorders come in many types, can have various symptoms, and be debilitating for the individual. Let’s examine the types of personality disorder and television shows that have portrayed characters with personality disorder both effectively and ineffectively.

In this article, we’ll be going over some of the types of personality disorders and their signs as well as the ways that some recent television shows have portrayed them.

Types of Personality Disorder

There are currently 10 types of recognized personality disorder, each with its own characteristics:

  • Paranoid personality disorder
    • find it hard to confide in people
    • find it very difficult to trust other people, believing they will use you or take advantage of you
    • watch others closely, looking for signs of betrayal or hostility
    • read threats and danger that don’t exist
  • Schizoid personality disorder
    • uninterested in forming close relationships with other people, including your family
    • feel that relationships interfere with your freedom and tend to cause problems
    • prefer to be alone with your own thoughts
    • choose to live your life without interference from others
    • get little pleasure from life
    • have little interest in sex or intimacy
    • emotionally cold towards others
  • Schizotypal personality disorder
    • find making close relationships extremely difficult
    • think and express yourself in ways that others find ‘odd’, using unusual words or phrases
    • behave in ways that others find eccentric
    • believe that you can read minds or that you have special powers
    • feel anxious and tense with others who do not share these beliefs
    • feel very anxious and paranoid in social situations
  • Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)
    • put yourself in dangerous or risky situations
    • behave dangerously and sometimes illegally
    • behave in ways that are unpleasant for others
    • feel very easily bored and act on impulse
    • behave aggressively and get into fights easily
    • do things to get what you want, putting your needs above others’
    • have a criminal record
    • feel no sense of guilt when you mistreat others
    • believe that only the strongest survive and that you must do whatever it takes to lead a successful life because if you don’t grab opportunities, others will
    • have had a diagnosis of conduct disorder before the age of 15
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
    • feel very worried about people abandoning you, and will do anything to stop that from happening
    • have very intense emotions that last from a few hours to a few days and can change quickly
    • no strong sense of who you are, and it changes depending on who you’re with
    • find it very hard to make and keep stable relationships
    • act impulsively and do things that could harm you
    • have suicidal thoughts or self-harming behavior
    • feel empty and lonely a lot of the time
    • get very angry, and struggle to control your anger
  • Histrionic personality disorder
    • very uncomfortable when not the center of attention
    • feel more at ease as the ‘life and soul of the party’
    • feel that you have to entertain people
    • flirt or behave provocatively to remain the center of attention
    • get a reputation for being dramatic and overemotional
    • feel dependent on the approval of others
    • easily influenced by others
  • Narcissistic personality disorder
    • believe that there are special reasons that make you different, better or more deserving than others
    • have fragile self-esteem, so that you rely on others to recognize your worth and your needs
    • feel upset if others ignore you and don’t give you what you feel you deserve
    • resent other people’s successes
    • put your own needs above other people’s, and demand they do too
    • seen as selfish and ‘above yourself’
    • take advantage of other people
  • Avoidant (or anxious) personality disorder
    • avoid work or social activities that mean you must be with others
    • expect disapproval and criticism and be very sensitive to it
    • worry constantly about being ‘found out’ and rejected
    • worry about being ridiculed or shamed by others
    • avoid relationships, friendships and intimacy because you fear rejection
    • feel lonely and isolated, and inferior to others
    • be reluctant to try new activities in case you embarrass yourself
  • Dependent personality disorder
    • feel needy, weak and unable to make decisions or function properly without help or support
    • allow others to assume responsibility for many areas of your life
    • agree to things you feel are wrong or you dislike being alone or losing someone’s support
    • afraid of being left to fend for yourself
    • have low self-confidence
    • see other people as being much more capable than you are
    • seen by others as much too submissive and passive
  • Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCDP)
    • need to keep everything in order and under control
    • set unrealistically high standards for yourself and others
    • think yours is the best way of making things happen
    • worry when you or others might make mistakes
    • expect catastrophes if things aren’t perfect
    • be reluctant to spend money on yourself or others
    • have a tendency to hang onto items with no obvious value

Each one of these types of personality disorder is real. Currently, there are seven television shows that have characters with one form or another of personality disorder.

Love

Love is a romantic comedy series on Netflix that follows Mickey and Gus and explores male and female perspectives on love. Though Mickey is never given the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, many viewers with BPD relate to her actions that could be influenced by BPD symptoms.

The character of Mickey can be impulsive, fears and works hard to avoid abandonment, has unstable relationships, and has substance abuse issues. She’s constantly trying to get her life together but slips up a lot. While it’s great to see a humanizing take on some BPD symptoms, it’s also notable that the show doesn’t go overboard and romanticize living with these symptoms.

Love gives viewers a glimpse into the daily turmoil of life with borderline personality disorder. Mickey is not necessarily a lovable character, but the audience is able to see her perspective in a way that doesn’t necessarily justify or excuse her behavior.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a musical comedy-drama series on The CW following Rebecca as she moves from New York to California to follow and try to win back her childhood ex-boyfriend, Josh. In season 3, Rebecca is officially diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

The most obvious symptom of BPD portrayed in the series is emotional intensity, made clear in Rebecca’s relationship with Josh. For example, every episode title of the three seasons includes Josh’s name, a wink to the intense emotional attachment Rebecca has to him.

While many agree BPD and the symptom of emotional intensity is depicted well in the show, some believe it falls short in depicting how debilitating BPD can be to live with.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend depicts [BPD] in a light-hearted way. In real life, it’s a lot more painful. It’s a pretty unrealistic portrayal of how detrimental BPD can be.

Skins

Skins is a British television drama following a group of teenagers. It’s noteworthy for exploring complex issues like dysfunctional family dynamics, mental illness, and bullying. The character of Effy, in particular, exhibits mental health symptoms people with BPD have identified with.

Effy is scared to trust people and love them and often engages in self-destructive behaviors. Effy exhibits sudden mood changes, demonstrates impulsive behaviors, and willingly engages in things that are bad for her. Effy manipulates peoples’ emotions and her way of coping with traumatic events is relatable.

The series was notable for how it portrayed a wide range of teenaged characters dealing with behavioral and personality disorders just trying to live their normal lives.

Suits

Suits is a legal drama series following the bright college dropout Mike who works secretly as a law associate for Harvey despite never having attended law school. Though not a main character, Harvey’s rival Louis may exhibit some symptoms that are typical of borderline personality disorder.

Louis from Suits actually does fit the profile of BPD that many therapists agree on. He is wildly emotional and has sharp bursts of anger; he pushes people away when he is most vulnerable; yet, he is deathly afraid of rejection and abandonment. Though Louis does not have a diagnosis of BPD in the show, it is important to see a man go through mental health struggles connected with a personality disorder in popular culture — especially when the character is unapologetically open about seeking help from his therapist, Stan.

UnREAL

UnREAL is a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making a reality television show, satirizing the dating show, The Bachelor. The show follows producer Rachel as she returns to the set of Everlasting after experiencing a mental health breakdown. During the show, we learn Rachel has received numerous mental health diagnoses in her life (including borderline personality disorder) from her therapist mother, Olive.

As we see Rachel work, she is the best at her job because of the way she is able to manipulate the girls on the show. And while being “manipulative” is an unfair label people with BPD are often given, the show makes it clear that Rachel is deeply uncomfortable with this aspect of her job.

We wonder why Rachel continues to engage in the manipulative behavior she despises. The answer may be related to a relational struggle people with BPD may be familiar with: repeating familiar but broken relationship patterns.

Because Rachel has an unhealthy relationship with her therapist mother, she seems to seek out a new maternal figure in her boss Quinn. She engages in the behavior she is trying to distance herself from because she aims to please Quinn above all else. And while Quinn treats Rachel slightly better than her mother, folks with BPD may relate to how Rachel repeats a past unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship pattern because it is familiar to her.

Mirror | Personality Disorders | Beachside

Riverdale

Riverdale is a CW series based on characters created by Archie Comics. Though not diagnosed with any mental illness in particular, some people with BPD have identified with one of the main characters, Betty. Betty’s mental health struggles display outwardly with perfectionism and self-harm, and her intense emotions appear to implode, rather than explode.

Riverdale depicts BPD or general mental illness quite vividly. Although she isn’t diagnosed ( a problem across many different forms of media), Betty definitely has traits of BPD, such isolating herself, using an alternative persona hen she’s scared and angry, signs of anxiety, mild self-harm, and feeling immense pressure to be perfect.

Like many people with BPD, the character of Betty is very private about her dark side, and doesn’t want to talk about it, or acknowledge it. Betty tends to keep her anxieties bottled up – which is certainly not healthy. She needs to have a process for working through it. She’s young and doesn’t know how to work through her own mental illness.

Maniac

The highly anticipated new series Maniac was finally released on Netflix recently.

Maniac is an examination of mental illness through the lens of two people struggling with different issues and anxieties. The character of Annie has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Many viewers have applauded the show for its accurate portrayal of BPD and fans regularly discuss the show’s portrayal of mental health.

Conclusion

It is hard enough for people with mental illness to deal with the stigma associated with personality disorders. When the media portrays personality disorders negatively, people with the diagnosis have a fight on their hands.

While the fight to reduce stigma from mental illnesses continues, these television shows have mostly stepped up to provide realistic portrayals of characters with personality disorders. This will aid greatly in educating the general public about the symptoms and behaviors that people with mental illnesses need to address through professional medical intervention.

The general public must be invested in ensuring the fair treatment of people with BPD and other personality disorders. Television shows that have realistic portrayals of people dealing with personality disorders help reduce the stigma.

If you or someone you love is dealing with a personality disorder or believes that they might be, consider getting treatment at a residential facility like ours. The trained medical and therapeutic professionals at Beachside can help to diagnose the problem, to determine the root cause and help the patient to successfully manage the symptoms while developing quality coping mechanisms so that you can grow and thrive. Reach out today to find out how we can help!

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